DEVON CCC are just days away from signing their new professional for the 2019 season in the Minor Counties Championship.
The last time Devon engaged a professional player was way back in 1977 when former Hants and England paceman Bob Cottam filled the role.
Although professional players are common in Minor Counties cricket – Cornwall and Dorset regularly employ a paid player – Devon have not followed the same path.
Professional players such as Chris Read (Notts), Matt Wood (Somerset), Charlie Morris (Worcestershire) and Ryan Stevenson (Hampshire) have played for Devon when their First Class commitments allowed. And Somerset duo Ben Green and Tom Lammonby still do.
Devon have not paid anyone to play for them for more than 40 years, but with changes looming to Minor Counties Cricket for 2020 feel it is wise move for the summer ahead.
“Minor Counties cricket is going to become National Counties cricket from 2020,” said Neil Gamble, the chairman of Devon CCC.
“Instead of two divisions – East and West – playing six games a season over three days each, then a play-off between the two winners to decide the champions, there will be a new structure.
“There will be two divisions in the East and Two in the West with promotion and relegation between, which has never been done before.
“Instead of playing six games, there will only be four, still of three days’ duration, but there will be more one-day, 50-over cricket.
“It is important to finish in the top five in our division this season if we want to be in the top tier for 2020, which is why we are taking the step of engaging a professional.
“Josh Bess, our leading all-rounder and captain, has retired from Minor Counties cricket and we have availability issues over a number of players.
“For that reason it was felt sensible to bring in a strong player who can hold our middle order together and bowl as well.”
Gamble is not saying who the new professional will be until registration forms are completed.
Devon advertised at the end of last season for a professional and had applications from players from as far away as Durham.
Gamble said Devon’s first choice is a player with a long career behind him in First Class cricket, not a younger man who has been released after a brief stay in the professional game.
One signing Gamble was able to confirm is that of batting all-rounder Mitch Pugh, who has benefited from a relaxation of the overseas eligibility rules pushed through by ECB.
Pugh, who was born in South Africa and brought up in Australia, joined Torquay in 2014 and has been their stand-out player from day one.
His Devon League stats, according to Play-Cricket, are 3015 runs at an average of 40 from 85 innings and 134 wickets at 19.14 each from 90 matches played.
Had Pugh been eligible before, Devon would have invited him to register. His one and only county appearance to date was in an invitation T20 tournament against Cornwall and Somerset 2ndXI.
“ECB have reduced the qualifying period from seven years to three, which means Mitchell is eligible to play for Devon providing he meets the residential qualifications and signs a declaration he won’t play for another country,” said Gamble.
“As he lives here permanently now, and is settled and studying at university, meeting the conditions was no problem.”
Matt Thompson, the Devon captain and a former Torquay team-mate of Pugh’s said the relaxation of the residency regulation was great news for Devon and the player.
“Mitch is obviously someone we've tried to have registered before, so for him to be eligible (finally) is a big plus.
“He is a three-dimensional player and can play red and white-ball.
“His red ball availability is mixed, but with other signings also in the pipeline we should have some good depth and competition for places.”